High above the Mississippi River floodplain and 15 minutes southeast of Murphysboro, a limestone overhang dubbed Inspiration Point juts atop the LaRue Pine Hills in the Shawnee National Forest.
SIU’s Base Camp had its most recent outing for a sunset hike to Inspiration Point Friday. As the sun began to disappear into the horizon, Mitch Belsley, a graduate assistant with the Base Camp Adventure Program, explained the history of the area to a small group of students. He described the LaRue Pine Hills as a geologic and topographical gem in a state mostly known for its flat agricultural plain. Belsley took advantage of the light from the sun’s fading mellow glow to read a passage from Captain Meriwether Lewis’ 1803 journal entry written while traveling up the Mississippi River a year before the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Lewis wrote that the rocks were nearly perpendicular and, in many places, rose to 60-feet. He said the height of the hills appeared to be about 120 feet above the banks, which formed their base.
Belsley discussed the LaRue-Pine Hills geological history as well, which formed as the Illinois Basin, an inland sea, began to recede millions of years ago. The basin’s sandy shores became the rock formations seen today throughout southern Illinois.
As Belsley and fellow Base Camp staff member David Hug led the group down from the trail to Inspiration Point, safety was stressed as the group descended into the falling darkness of the Shawnee. Hug pointed out and explained remedies for the poisonous foliage that lined the forest floor.
“We want to help foster a new land ethic within our participants,” Belsley said. “Our main goal at Base Camp is to inspire people to appreciate the natural world around them through utilizing these sorts of outdoor experiences.”
Though Base Camp’s summer outings mostly use the natural resources close to home in the Shawnee and Mark Twain National Forest in southeast Missouri, the Student Recreation Center based facility provides an opportunity to discover the location of wild and scenic areas throughout the area to visit.
For Kraig Krueger, a junior from St. Louis studying cinema and photography, the sunset hike offered him a chance to venture outside the norms of a usual Saturday night in Carbondale.
“I figured I could go out drinking like everybody else does on the weekend or I could try to do something a little more healthier,” he said. “Hikes offer a different kind of fulfillment I think more people should open themselves up to.”
For others, the outing provided a first chance to see the Shawnee, such as Kat Tries, a senior from Chicago studying animal science who moved to Carbondale without a vehicle.
“I’ve always heard that there are a lot of great outdoor opportunities down here, but I’ve never had the chance to see any of it until now,” she said. “These hills really impress me through both their historical significance and beauty.”
As the cool of the evening followed the setting of Saturday’s sun, hike participants said they enjoyed the early June air that is sure to heat up as the summer presses on.
“We have taken the hot and humid environment into account for this summer’s outings,” Belsley said. “We try to tailor our trips and clinics around evening programs and water based pursuits. Hopefully this will allow everyone to enjoy these amazing places while still beating the heat during the dog days of summer.”